Tennessee Vols: To Rid Unsavory Transgressions, Bruce Pearl Has To Vanish

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Tennessee Vols: To Rid Unsavory Transgressions, Bruce Pearl Has To Vanish
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

There was a savory smell not long ago from every barbecue joint in Tennessee, the delicious taste that left the folks in the south believing strongly in the Tennessee Volunteers and head coach Bruce Pearl, a custodian the die-hard fans trusted in and gathered to feast on pork shoulders, beef brisket, smoked turkey, ribs and smoked chicken.

As Tennesseans consumed the tasty food proudly served at the local dinners, they failed to realize that something smelled very bad, and it’s not the beans or smoked sausages, but it’s a troubling basketball scandal that has surfaced. It would not be a stunning reaction now that Pearl has admittedly acknowledged he lied to NCAA investigators regarding excessive phone calls to recruits. As a way to lure millions of prospects to commit to a finer program, he wrongly violated and deceived NCAA rules.

More than ever, this is something for the trustees to carefully evaluate and then maybe decide on generally firing Pearl for not only lying, but endangering a famous school’s image. The university is pondering and dealing with the emergence of a disgraceful scandal and, eventually, Tennessee will be ungenerous and dismiss Pearl. Faced with a lot of trouble, as unlawful recruiting perpetually extends pointless hypocrisy and conspiracy, the basketball program is hit by sanctions in a mess with the NCAA.

What happened, of course, is that Pearl committed a shameful sin and has outraged the program with his dishonesty, finally dauntless enough to admit he didn’t tell the truth in a June interview. He actually lived a lie until he felt it was time to relieve a powerful burden he no longer could bear. Beyond all measures, Pearl unleashing the truth doesn’t resolve the ongoing issue, but terrifies and upsets a Tennessee community still overcoming the alleged infractions and the abrupt departure of Lane Kiffin that stained the university when he left for the USC coaching job.

All the emotion and calamity is an eye-opener for a university that is mired in difficulty as long as Pearl is installing a dishonest message. But as shamelessly bad as the athletic program may save Pearl from himself, he is the face of the Vols since rebuilding a prevailing team and providing a strong principle of inspiration and, in likelihood, could be allowed another chance.

The more this story unfolds, the harder it is to imagine that his job security is still intact, placed in an unfamiliar situation, and now that his status is hit with tremendous uncertainty, he’s criticized today for mostly sharing “incorrect and misleading information” to the NCAA in relations to unlawfully hosting recruits. Pearl, by nature, is the most animated coach in college basketball, known for sporting his orange sports coat or intensifying the fans at the Lady Volunteers’ basketball games.

He’s very fortunate that he isn’t fired. Perhaps, it’s not too late to terminate Pearl. He orchestrated the Vols renovation this era, and regularly scolded his players for making unwise choices and groomed his kids as if they were his own children. But it seems none of it matters, especially when trust is lost after he lied to investigators, and when he’ll be docked $1.5 million in pay over the next five years. So for now, athletic director Mike Hamilton needs to traditionally follow principles and handle the situation honestly and fairly. Or does he deserve to be fired?

He is, infamously, a disingenuous and an ineffectual administrator and has been unaware of the treachery happening within the program, something that was least expected at Rocky Top. Once before, sins tarnished the school in which Kiffin is involved in a pending investigation for six infractions of violating NCAA rules. And now this is another bummer. This time, Pearl lies to the NCAA. This time, realistically, he’s labeled as a cheater and sadly is a cheater who believed he could have gotten away with infamy when he lied under serious circumstances.

It wasn’t long ago, now afflicted by guilt for keeping the truth hidden, when he confessed to his transgression at a press conference and acknowledged that he had to release the truth, grasping an understanding that he used poor judgment. All of the sudden, he came clean because he clearly felt he was busted, and eventually he would have been busted when the NCAA had already interviewed witnesses close to Pearl.

Rather than tell the truth, he lied and refused to take accountability for his actions, and now is distinguished as an arbitrary liar. It’s true that many coaches look for an edge as far as in recruiting the top prospects in the nation, but it may have cost Pearl his coaching job for dangerously violating the rules. At best, we can sense that he’s self-indulgent and negligent and tried daringly to beat the system, when the system has actually beaten the most famous, godlike citizen in Tennessee, now the shameful liar who broke into tears and genuinely announced that his information was a hoax.

It wasn’t until Friday when he sincerely said:

“I provided incorrect and misleading information to the NCAA. I do apologize from the bottom of my heart. I let everybody down.”

The NCAA has let everyone down, too. Rest assured that the NCAA is troubling and a chaotic industry, in tremendous disarray. The irony of this farce is that the organization is unbalanced with faulty scandals staining the symbol of collegiate sports, and setting poor images for student athletes by allowing players and coaches to have too much exemption. As it all strays, the folks in charge are unaware of fraud and infractions committed at prestigious university. But coaches and players understand the rule book, yet they commit costly blunders, which are normally regretful.

This is a paradigm as to why it’s hard to trust coaches and players. And certainly, Pearl isn’t the only coach who tried to take an edge in competition for recruits. And thus the pitiful cheating persists in sports, it’s easy to flash back to the painful episodes at Indiana when former coach Kelvin Sampson infamously committed a reckless crime and recruited over the phone.

The mishandling of the scandal smudged Indiana, an athletic program still trying to repair its image after taking a risk when the school brought aboard Sampson, despite the fact he had illegally recruited over the phone at Oklahoma. There were troubles here in Southern California as well, especially when Tim Floyd stepped down for making a direct cash payment to a wannabe agent for the rights of O.J. Mayo.

That was a learning experience for any coach, but obviously not Pearl.

Such an action constitutes a major penalty, or at least it should. But more importantly, it’s a valid indicator that Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek needs to dismiss Pearl and Hamilton. The recruiting violations are serious and he relatively broke minor NCAA rules in 2008. According to sources, he entertained high school juniors in his house, which is prohibited but he foolishly broke the rules.

And now again, he badly made poor judgment and will now earn $500,000 less in fiscal in 2011, $600,000 less in fiscal in 2012 and so forth, including a bonus worth $500,000 will now be delayed to 2015. By lying to investigators, he clearly forgot they could trace his phone. Meanwhile, he’s embarrassed for calling a high-school recruit more than once and week, and suddenly has been perceived as a criminal. But, of course, the problem here is that he lied.

As it is in college sports egregious scandals normally justifies improper benefits, but supports a number of athletes who come from poor backgrounds and receive extra money and gifts for their families. But from this standpoint, Pearl’s lack of moral judgment was a risky blunder. He had riches, but lost it. He had become a successful coach, but may lose it. Then again, he’s arguably the best coach in the history of Tennessee basketball. So maybe he does keep his job. But he deserves to be fired.  

Maybe this is a one-time mistake. Maybe this is the moment to wave farewell.

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